Special Report: Light Rail

LRT in a Tailspin After a Hopeful Start

Lack of interest from City Hall, short-sighted provincial politicking conspire to sideline Hamilton's LRT plan.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published March 18, 2014

I was taking the B-line bus one day last week and had the melancholic experience of seeing one of the Rapid Transit team posters with the cheery notice:

"LRT public consultation coming January 2011!"

That is over three years ago!

Nothing screams broken dreams, unprofessionalism and lack of interest from the City like still running posters advertising an event three years ago and encouraging residents to submit their ideas and comments to a team that no longer exists - on the very B-line that is supposed to be upgraded to the LRT they are advertising.

It is like a bankrupt business that can't be bothered to take down their signs or remove their website.

Meanwhile, the Ontario NDP not only rejects all of the Province's proposed revenue tools to pay for the next phase of Metrolinx projects but doesn't even support an increase in corporate taxes or higher tax rates on people earning over $500,000.

Instead, the NDP would just "maintain" the current tax levels and "close loopholes".

They are basically saying the same thing as the Progressive Conservatives: no new taxes of any kind, and the money must come from efficiencies. The NDP are still pretending to support the Big Move, just as long as it doesn't cost anything.

I really can't see them raising the money needed by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy! And the suggestion of dedicating some corporate taxes to transit seems completely crazy: the NDP hasn't costed it, and we don't know if they would support the service cuts in other areas (i.e. health and education) that would be needed to cover the rest.

Also, they seem to think "middle class" means everyone earning less than $500,000!

What would it take for them to support a new revenue tool to fund the Big Move?

In response, the Ontario Liberals have also rejected a new gas tax or an increase to the HST - and the funding will only be regional, which is not what Premier Kathleen Wynne said a month ago.

That doesn't leave very much, since it is likely that congestion tolls are also off the table. I guess the only things left will be taxes or fees that individuals don't see.

Will this be enough for the NDP to support when the Spring Budget comes out? Will the money raised under whatever compromise they can make actually be enough to build anything?

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:05:53

If it's any consolation, the entire Big Move will probably be downsized.

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By Disappointed (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:19:34 in reply to Comment 98562

That's no consolation.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:18:52 in reply to Comment 98562

Coming sometime before 2022: the little move

(aka adding 1 train to the lakeshore line and buying 1 articulated bus for hamilton. And putting a cloverleaf at clappisons. And buiding a new highway to nowhere on the peninsula.)

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 22:06:53 in reply to Comment 98564

Can't wait to see your campaign for the 2014 election. Sounds like you'd like to be an agent of change. Which ward will I see you running in? Or will you be putting forward your name on the ballot for mayor?

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By DownerInDowntownHamilton (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 09:38:16 in reply to Comment 98580

So in your version of democracy, the only way you're allowed to participate is by running for office? So much for "best place to engage citizens".

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 17:27:33 in reply to Comment 98613

Not at all. I'd say the people who want to be an agent of change should actually do so. Talk is cheap. Let's put your money where your mouth is, and go out and run a campaign on your priorities. With Sean it's all about bike lanes, LRT and 'complete streets'. That's great for a vocal minority, but regardless of the ward you run in, it's not popular. So, if you're serious about change, go out and make that change. Talking about it on an Internet forum, or at a poorly attended public meeting won't get things done.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 20, 2014 at 09:27:24 in reply to Comment 98657

...he said, to the guy who stood up before council 3 hours earlier to promote the Cannon cycle track as a representative of Hamiltons new bikeshare.

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By DownerInDowntownHamilton (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 17:38:27 in reply to Comment 98657

Your cynical little diatribe might have sounded more plausible before council followed the public will and voted unanimously to go ahead with complete streets and a separated cycle track on Cannon Street from Sherman to Hess. And by the way, Sean was one of the engaged citizens who spoke to council today.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 14:10:26 in reply to Comment 98564

Premier Kathleen Wynne was in Waterloo Region today, where she announced the government's plans to bring full-day, two-way GO Train service between Waterloo Region and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)... by the end of 2016, Metrolinx expects to introduce two additional morning and afternoon peak period trips.


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 15:12:18 in reply to Comment 98570

Seems safe to assume that this services Kitchener Centre.


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By Rational Optimist (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 09:19:45 in reply to Comment 98571

You’re wrong about that. A sound business case has been made for expanded Go service between Kitchener and Guelph and Union, and the service thus far has been a success. I think the government probably is in vote-buying mode, but that is a rational decision for reasons other than political.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:05:13 in reply to Comment 98610

I made no comment on the business case, just the apparent political calculation.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 13:24:38 in reply to Comment 98564

And buiding a new highway to nowhere on the peninsula.

This is the most sickening thing. No one will bat an eye when the province spends billions on a new freeway that in 30 years time will be in the same position as our current freeways are in. But propose to spend the same money on transit in the most densely populated and congested regions of our province? Everyone looses their mind!

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By real slow (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:23:03

and meanwhile all parties continue to implicitly support spending unscrutinized, undebated, unsustainable amounts to prop up the reason the big move was proposed in the first place: the gta road system. i'm sure over the next 10 years we will easily spend as much trying to fit more single passenger cars through the same broken 400 series pipes at ever slowing rates and ever increasing costs.

this shouldnt be about spending a billion dollars it should be about saving billions of dollars. politics.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:28:15

It's funny how the NDP's rhetoric reminds me of Rob Ford.

candidate: "No, I won't cut any services/plans, I'll fix our funding woes by cutting the gravy/loopholes".

commentators: "There's no way there's enough money in that gravy/loopholes to allow you to keep your commitments."

candidate: "Don't worry about that, we'll find a way."

No they won't.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 13:06:27 in reply to Comment 98567

Yup. They're canny enough not to come right out and say they're going to end the 'war on cars', but they're doing a fine job sending out dog whistles.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 15:39:51

I appreciate all the work by individuals on an effort to turn a tide.I see no real leadership from the three choices of leadership, their agenda is who will have the power serving masters who do not care about people or the natural world. Keep talking, it is about the education process to convince the masses change is needed.

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By denio (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 17:13:46

Choosing not to listen to my highly educated dad's advice and attitude about money

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By Rally up (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 19:38:09

We need to rally for LRT. This is a social justice issue after all, with huge consequences for our environment and betterment of our neighbourhoods. I don't think we have a choice. Its a moral imperative given what we know about the benefits of it, vs. the harms of the status-quo, use of cars, etc.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted March 18, 2014 at 20:06:24

I read a recent article in the National Post comparing our Provincial economic situaiton with that of California. California by virtue of its consitution is nearly bankrupt. Yet, they pay 2.8% of revenue in interest on their debt and their debt ratio is about 21% of GDP. Ontario by contrast pays 5.1% of revenue in interest and has a GDP to debt ratio greater than 52%. We are in financial crisis.

Next to Quebec we pay the highest taxes. Hamilton's municipal taxes based on value are amongst the highest in the whole world. The cupboard is bare and unless we reign in our education, medical and general public service costs, there is no money for filling potholes let alone LRTs. Rallies will do little in this environment.

We have raped our previosuly admirable electrical system. We allow our govenrment to flagarantly waste money on boondoggles and near fraudulent schemeing without consequence. We need to have hard discussions on how our money is spent.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2014-03-18 20:32:18

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 05:25:50 in reply to Comment 98575

You are witnessing the end result of expensive, subsidized, and unsustainable infrastructure. This setup is inefficient and must eventually collapse. As that begins to occur it creates more and more public frustration with taxation (herp derp but Taxpayers!), which is beginning to destructively feed back on itself.

Why not sustainable investment that produces sustainable growth.

We're letting time and money burn away on studies and consultations that never get done. We're letting each new politician overturn the hard work of the previous one. Inefficiency is an understatement.

You're going to pay for the pothole no matter what. Either for the repair to the pothole, or the repair to your car, or OHIP looking after someone's broken knee. The example extends to other things as well.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-03-19 05:30:52

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2014 at 08:22:59 in reply to Comment 98589

I would argue the opposite. All infrastrucurre is expensive and subsidized. What we are witnessing is a failure of successive govenments to spend money wisely. If we had followed the plans that were in place in the 70's and 80's we would have a subway system and a Go Transit system double the size we have, 30% more highway capacity and lower power generation costs. Instead we have public sector workers earning far more than the private sector workers in salaries and pensions and we have spent the very minimum on public transit, highways, sewers, bridges and power plants. Our health care costs cannot continue to grow well beyond inflation year after year. There are hard decisions to be made and some people are not going to be very happy about it.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2014-03-19 08:24:42

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By Pangloss (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 22:29:05 in reply to Comment 98575

Stow the crass metaphor in the closing para. Ch'uis vraiment dégueulasse.

Also, Ontario's (2011-12) debt-to-GDP was 40.9%. Peut-etre vous êtes transposez l'Ontario y La Belle Province (approximatement 50% debt-to-GDP).


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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted March 18, 2014 at 23:03:47 in reply to Comment 98582

Sorry - instead of the r word how about "taken advantage of the sitting duck system by allowing craven and selfish self-interest to take advantage of a beautiful and susceptible power system." While rape may be a more efficient word, it may offend some.

Just read the Globe article and the numbers bounce around from one I previously read. Went to the government site and they predict 40.5 for 2013/2014. Maybe the number I read previously included unfunded liabilities like pensions. It's still double California's "bankrupt" number. In a world where we rely upon borrowing, the rate remains unsustainable by any measure.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2014-03-18 23:04:13

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By Groan (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2014 at 22:25:27 in reply to Comment 98575

That is precisely why we need to invest in new, and, perhaps even radical, game changing infrastructure and not the same old same old. Unfortunately, populist rhetoric and politics equates "new" (ie. improved mass transit) with boondoggle while seeming to crave enhancements on the old (ie. the Mid-Pen, etc.). The thriving 21st century cities and not making decisions based on what worked (or didn't) in the 20th. Just like any entity, for municipalities it's innovate or die. When change is as hard to achieve as it appears to be in Hamilton, I fear for we'll ultimately end up.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 07:34:51

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2014 at 08:27:40 in reply to Comment 98601

That may or may not be true - but what is your solution?

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 20:55:35 in reply to Comment 98604

whatever money is spent on transit in this province needs to be spent where it is needed most, Toronto. Toronto is the engine that drives the provincial economy. It has some serious traffic issues. Hamilton does not. We have a safe efficient one way road network that works wonderfully well for this city. We have not gridlock or serious traffic problems, yet. If the powers that be keep screwing up our road network then we certainly will. The bus only lane on King St. is a prime example of the nonsense we are facing. In a city where you can drive from downtown to Dundurn in 6 or 7 minutes with all lanes available to cars then how long can it possibly take a bus? The bus can't save more than a handfull of seconds with the new lane. In the weeks since its inception it is slowly but surely being ignored and more and more cars are driving in it. Even the cops don't care. More than once I have seen cars driving in the bus lane and being ignored by law enforcement. Everyone on the roads knows it was a bad move and are acting accordingly

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2014 at 23:22:06 in reply to Comment 98686

Maybe Toronto should turn all their streets into 1-way streets then and save everybody the money.

oh wait, that would make Toronto into a hellhole.

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By Rosario Marchese, NDP Urban Transit Crit (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 08:34:33

I'm afraid Nicholas Kevlahan is incorrect. While it is true that the NDP has not yet announced support for specific corporate or upper-income tax increases (contrary to a recent article in the Hamilton Spectator), it is simply wrong to infer that the NDP's transit funding plan will be limited only to our previously announced commitments. We have ruled out one source of additional revenue: new taxes, tolls and fees on middle class families.

To be clear, the NDP is 100% committed to funding a comprehensive regional rapid transit network, including LRT in Hamilton.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 10:02:04 in reply to Comment 98605

Why not tolls, fees, and increased gas taxes? Why the fear of implementing anything that might encourage less car dependence? Being committed to transit is empty rhetoric if you aren't also committed to reducing the need for expensive, unsustainable car infrastructure.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 09:31:26 in reply to Comment 98605

How do you define "middle class" families? Does that mean taxes or fees on single people, poor people, "rich", or some "other" group is fine? Why?

Why "protect" the middle class only at the cost of worse services for the working class and poor? Why has the NDP still not actually worked out how they will raise sufficient amounts money?

The NDP (and Liberals) keep ruling out various revenue tools, when are you going to rule something in?

We know what it will cost (about $2 billion per year). How will the NDP raise this money from new sources, or implement cuts to other services?

Talk about waste, gravy trains etc. is not going to cut it!

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 15:26:25 in reply to Comment 98611

Years ago the middle class was deemed as those under around 65,000, however, I believe that is not the norm for today. While I know the organized workers have it better then those of us who are unorganized workers. I believe it is the structure we all live is that is the problem, so how to change it? I am looking for real leadership, thgose who will stand up for the truth and not play the populist platform. In today'sworld of politics, we will be hard pressed to see that, as being in power to serve masters other then the people is the norm. The money is there, it is the will power for change that is missing!!!

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By JMcgreal (registered) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 09:13:43

Visit Hamilton Transit History tells it all. We missed the Transit Move in 1983. -1960 Hamilton Transit starts a Plan ICTS Intermediate Capacity Transit System -Aug.21 1980Ham/Went agrees to the Plan Cost $115 mil. Funding get this Fereral 45% ,Prov. 45%, Hamilton 10% -March 1981 Public open meeting & survey 50,000 homes 57% support ICTS / 26% oppose /13% undecided -1983 Mayo Vic Copps Dream Transit .Voted down by Council (was T.Jackson around at the Time ?) The Ambitious City (LOL) 50yrs. later Transit ,Street Car Rail/Trolley Bus / Buses Cars and Congestion Kenilworth.Sheman cut, Clarmount,Linc/Red Hill Parkway 45yrs.to decided thanks CAtch D.McLean -2014 LRT ? Why B-Line Eastgate to McMaster 20-23 minutes cost $2.00 -A-Line Airport/Mohawk loop/ City Hub 18-19 minutes Cost $2.00 Think outside the box for LTR OR Mono Rail System Connecting around the City Airport Hub A-Line to City Hub Airport /West ward 11to 15 to Waterdown GO station Airport EastWards 11to8 Centennial Parkway to Eastgast B-Line /Go Station Gets have made Hamilton Transit as Ministry of transportation Stated

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 10:50:17

comment from banned user deleted

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 20, 2014 at 09:44:12 in reply to Comment 98621

BRT... could be converted to LRT in the future at very low cost.

The difference between LRT and BRT is what..tracks, vehicles and power lines overhead, right? So really, the 'low cost' you are speaking of is actually just the difference between LRT and BRT right now, with a bunch of extra costs tacked on by doing them in separate procurements, not to mention the disruption to the BRT during conversion process. It would be cheaper to build LRT outright then to build BRT and replace it with LRT. Also, if we do BRT and LRT we have to buy the BRT busses and the LRT trains. So it would be a lot cheaper to just build LRT.

By putting in the BRT now we get something now

What makes you think that switching to BRT would expedite the process at all?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:08:52 in reply to Comment 98621

Define BRT. Because let me tell you, if you close 2 lanes of traffic in a manner that's easy to re-open them, your BRT will be shut down in under a year. And if you don't close the lanes, then "BRT" is just "put more buses on the B-line".

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:52:57

comment from banned user deleted

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:57:56

comment from banned user deleted

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:13:09

comment from banned user deleted

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 13:33:55 in reply to Comment 98632

Attention mods, it looks like our old friend Allan Taylor has snuck back onto to the site.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted March 19, 2014 at 15:11:32

I support LRT as the best option.

However I also support BRT as the next best option.

Pro-LRT supporters and politicians are applying logic to their arguments, the anti-LRT politicians are using emotions to win the day. Emotion usually trumps logic, whether you like it or not. LRT benefits seems abstract and distant to many suburban voters, they haven't yet been convinced to FEEL that they will also benefit from the project. 5 year time-line, 10 years before the proposed development that follows LRT will occur (in an area where they don't venture), no benefits to themselves, seemingly unprovable promises of less cars on the road, it's all distant and abstract... however correct and right the LRT project is. Increased taxes however, provide an immediate and emotional response, especially when you can't feel or conceive the benefit of them. The LRT lobby has to figure out a way to positively engage Mountain and Suburban residents, a downtown first upgrade is not achieving that. It is my personal feeling and opinion that the only way we will get political buy-in for transit spending upgrades locally is by including the Mountain and Suburbs in those shorter term capital plans, 15-20 year promises are not going to excite and engage the people that live there to vote for a pro-LRT politician.

I am fully supporting LRT until the results of the next Provincial and Municipal elections come in. After those results, I feel Hamilton may need to press the re-set button on it's transit upgrade spending plans, or we may be able to start breaking ground. Let's see what players are left on the field after those two ballots, we may get lucky.

P.S. Converting BRT to LRT is not a simple process. If BRT is built, only expect it to remain BRT.

P.S.S. One advantage of BRT is that the BRT dedicated lane can be accessed and exited by other bus routes. It does give many more transfer-free routing options.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 20, 2014 at 10:00:16 in reply to Comment 98635

One advantage of BRT is that the BRT dedicated lane can be accessed and exited by other bus routes. It does give many more transfer-free routing options.

This is not necessarily true. On Toronto's dedicated rail lines the rails are flush with the ground (just like their mixed-traffic lines), allowing busses and emergency vehicles to use the right-of-way. For example, when track maintenance is being done on the Spadina line they use busses to service the route instead of streetcars. I'm not 100% sure if this is what is in the plan for Hamilton but it is entirely possible and if the track ends up looking anything like the concept renders, it would be quite feasible. Once Toronto replaces its streetcar vehicles, lines like 510 Spadina and 512 St. Clair will really just be LRT's

Comment edited by AnjoMan on 2014-03-20 10:01:38

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By LeeEdwardMcIlmoyle (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2014 at 11:52:30

I'm not a big numbers guy. I'm just not. But I believe that people who are looking for more tangible short term guarantees for greater outcomes to their outlying wards are missing the point: The reason they are having to drive out of town for work and their monthly shopping excursions is because businesses are depressed in the Old City, and they got that way because no one would invest in better transit options back when it was marginally more feasible to do so. And it's only going to get worse, not better. There is NEVER going to be a better time to invest in Hamilton's future than right now. Never.

We are in flux right now; between jobs, so to speak, and the deciding factor on whether we evolve or die is on whether we can attract new businesses and new developers to Hamilton. That is happening right now. But it won't be sustainable if we reneg on all of our promises of potential growth by retreating from big expenditures that look like they won't directly, immediately benefit the outlying boroughs.

I grew up between the outskirts of Hamilton and Stoney Creek, and msis the shopping options out there; I now like in Stinson, and take the Delaware bus to do nearly monthly shopping trips to Costco in Ancaster, more out of necessity than anything else. It takes about an hour to get out there and back by bus. By car, it's a fair bit faster, but arranging those rides sometimes takes days. And meanwhile, that's about the only thing I need a car for.

However, the $200-$400 shopping bill those Costco runs incur, are a short term high expense outlay that leads to meat and other staples being in frozen storage for a month or two (not ideal, but better than nothing), and so it pays off, over paying daily or weekly for overpriced, substandard foods at my local No Frills.

But with more options opening up in the Downtown core, my reliance on No Frills and even Costco is starting to diminish. And that's thanks to the improvements that are ongoing in the core today. Improvements that could dry up in just a few years if we don't nurture them now.

What I'm saying is, we need better transportation for those of us who cannot or choose not to be part of Hamilton's prevalent driving culture. Improved transit to ALL wards starts with improving the wait times of the most heavily used routes in the City, so that people in and around the Old City see a viable option for transit that does NOT involve climbing into their car every time they need to go further than their corner store.

Hamilton needs to take the blinders off. We may think we're broke now, but when we're out on a limb with absolutely no capital growth and no infrastructure for improved development, we're going to wind up like Detroit. It's not that hard to see from here. Just take the soon-to-be-built Go Transit line to Windsor and cross the bridge.

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By motorin (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2014 at 18:31:28

just visit the mississauga - brampton lrt website to see how serious they are. they even have a kidz zone. not to mention a lrt mock up at their city hall. there's no doubt they will get their lrt before we do.

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